Author's note:- apologies if you thought I'd started and abandoned this. It will get finished but will remain a work in progress for a while. Hope you like this instalment.
Chapter 3:- Numerical dissociation.
'Blood. . . .his brother's blood.' The thought froze in his head, and everything else stopped with it. All thought, all movement, everything and nothing was centred around the image of the red smears and the knowledge of their source.
A perfect bubble of stopped time formed around him, and how much time passed in the rest of the world whilst he squatted in that bubble Don would never know, because for him the concept had no meaning.
Until it all slammed back, his system restarted, blood rushing far too fast, his vision expanding back to cover the room. Pain and anguish and fear hitting him so hard that it almost knocked him back off his feet. Instead he stood on legs shaky from fear or adrenaline, or just too damn long squatting and staring at the blood. He didn't know, but he did know one thing. He had to find Charlie.
He turned on Larry, his tone and expression far harsher than he ever meant, but he was running on a mix of emotions that were pushing his ability to control. "Where is he?"
Larry stepped back, slightly startled by the rapid change in Don, from perfect stillness and controlled calm, to quick movement and obvious emotion that billowed out from him like a swirling, growing stormcloud. "I don't. . ." he started "I'm not. . ." he paused again, gathering his thoughts, trying not to let Don's present demeanour intimidate him. It was a side of Don he'd never really seen, a storming intensity that he knew well from his brother, although Charlie's focus was always math, and even in frustration was never really directed at anybody. Don had clearly learned to direct that intensity at people, to use it as a tool to get what he needed from them, and he was used to dealing with people considerably harder than mild mannered physics professors. "That's why I called you," Larry stated reasonably. "I. . .that is we need to find him."
Don shifted slightly and felt a twinge of guilt when Larry flinched away from the movement. He studied his brother's mentor and friend. The professor clearly just as worried as he was. Don took a step backwards, flexing his wrists and clenching his fists in an attempt to contain the rolling fear. He looked round, silently assessing the situation, forcing himself to breath slowly, forcing himself to think when all he really wanted to do was run. Equations, Charlie was writing equations, nothing unusual there, so why wasn't he still in here. . .where would he. . ? He looked across at Larry. "Where are the nearest boards that he could write on."
Larry hesitated for a minute, a puzzled frown knotting his brow.
"He's run out of space," Don stated, moving towards the professor and almost grabbing his arm. "Where would he go? Not home it's too far."
"Well there are boards in the seminar room and the lecture. . ." Larry stated to an already moving Don. He followed him through the door.
Don positively burst through the doors of the lecture hall, his momentum carrying him a few paces before he stopped, dead in his tracks. Relief flooding through his system as he saw a familiar sight, Charlie, black curls bobbing slightly, writing symbols and forms on the board in front of him faster than most people could think, but as quickly as the relief washed through his system it drained out again, because there was something wrong. A hand reached into his intestines grabbed a fistful and twisted violently. Something was seriously wrong.
He watched, his mind refusing to process properly, refusing to acknowledge the dread. He was vaguely aware of Larry arriving behind him, of the fact that the older man had also stopped, not venturing further into the room. The same sense of dread and denial that Don had felt on the corridor prevented him now from moving forward, from finding out what was wrong. It could be nothing right? That stiffness that he could see in Charlie's shoulders, the way he was holding one arm awkwardly against his body whilst he wrote furiously, obsessively with the other, the fact that he was completely unaware of their presence despite the amount of noise they had made on entering the room, all of that could be normal for Charlie- right. . and the drops of blood on the floor, the bright red contrasting clearly on the light flooring, that could be. . . ?
He answered his cell almost by instinct, his thoughts not really registering the ringing. "Eppes," he took a step forward.
"Don," Megan's voice sounded clearly down the line, the concern evident. "Don, you need to find Charlie."
"I'm already with him," Don stated, not questioning why. He took another step forwards.
"Oh thank God," Megan said. "Is he alright?"
"I. . ." Don took another step. It was a question he couldn't answer, not really, not until he got closer, and still he did not ask Megan why she had this sudden concern for his brother because although he didn't know how she had found out, he already knew what she had found out.
"Don, he was there." Megan supplied the answer anyway. "He's on the CCTV footage. He was there when the bomb blew."
Don nodded, his eyes blinking slowly closed at the confirmation that he did not want. "I'll get back to you," he stated, snapping his phone shut before closing the last of the distance to his brother.
"Hey, Charlie," he called the greeting with a forced nonchalance.
"Oh," his brother half turned his head, allowing Don to catch a glimpse of bruising and small cuts on his face. "Hey Don," Charlie returned the greeting as his eyes drifted back to the board, "Just give me a sec, I just need to finish. . . ." He moved the pen rapidly completing the line of symbols in his equation. He stopped, his pen stilling for a moment then his hand rubbed through the last few symbols and he scribbled rapidly again. "Dammit I just can't. . " He turned to face Don, his frustration clear. "I'm sorry I just can't seem to get this.. . ." He gestured vaguely at the board. "I need to work. . .Can I help you Don? Why are you here?"
Don gasped in shock at his brother's appearance. Small cuts covered his face and one of his cheeks was badly swollen, his eyes appeared sunken, black smudges beneath each one contrasting with sallow pale skin, but most shocking of all was the jagged metal edge protruding from the arm that was held tight across his chest, blood soaked through the ragged torn sleeve and ran down his shirt splattering random patterns on torn jeans, but Don didn't know whether to be more concerned by the injury or his brother's apparent obliviousness of it. He'd seen his brother block out emotional pain before by burying himself in his math. Seen it and been frustrated as hell by it, but when it came to physical pain his brother had always erred slightly on the wimpish side. He didn't usually deal with pain well, didn't deal with near death experiences well, or fear or danger. He was a math professor for Godsake! He shouldn't have to. . . Why wasn't he sitting in a chair calling for an ambulance? Why hadn't he been picked up at the scene and whisked away so they could deal with the injuries and the shock, and the. .
Charlie was staring at him, waiting for an answer to his question and Don tried to force his thoughts under some sort of coherent control. "Your arm. . " were the first words he could push out pointing at the injured limb. "What happened to your arm?"
Charles Eppes looked down. Anyone else would have seen their own arm with a piece of jagged metal sticking out of it and blood dripping down it, and been freaked by it, but all Charlie saw were equations, depth of penetration, resistance by flesh, likely surface area of ingress, calculations of velocity and likely damage, estimations of rate of blood loss based on current flow rate assuming certain clotting characteristics. . .fascinating math that was being intruded on somehow, and he didn't want it intruded on, didn't want that link back to the world that had the power to make him lose his path through the math. He didn't want the intrusion normally, but today, here now, that feeling was much, much stronger. He needed to stay in the math because it was safe there, and it wasn't safe anywhere else.
When Charlie didn't respond Don tried again "Your arm Charlie it's bleeding." He restrained himself from pointing out that it had a lump of steel sticking out of it. Not that that wasn't obvious, but there was something going on here that was scaring the hell out of him, even more than the certain knowledge that his little brother had been one of the victims in a terrorist bombing, because that didn't just have the potential to cause physical injury. He tried to tell himself that it was just shock that was preventing his brother from acknowledging his injuries and seeking help but he knew better. "Charlie?"
"It's OK Don, the flow rate is low enough that you don't have to worry yet." Charlie stated, turning back to the equations on the board. "It'll be at least two hours and thirty eight minutes." He started writing again.
"Two hours and thirty eight minutes until what?" Don watched incredulously as his younger brother, his younger, badly injured brother ignored him. He grabbed Charlie's good arm in frustration, pulling back slightly as Charlie winced in pain at the move. "Charlie?"
Charlie looked up at Don, slightly shocked, his thoughts dragged back unwilling from his math again. "What?"
"Two hours and thirty eight minutes until what?" Don asked frustrated.
"Until the blood loss becomes life threatening," Charlie stated matter- of - factly.
Don shook his head. "No, Charlie, don't do this."
Charlie's mind pulled back, it was getting dangerously close to allowing something other than math to control his conscious thought and he knew that was unsafe, dangerous. Knew that he shouldn't. . . .He turned back to the board. "I just need. . ." the world shifted, uncomfortably and Charlie swayed backwards. "I need. . ." He tried again, but a grey black was swallowing his peripheral vision, his movements not his own.
Don barely caught him as he collapsed into his arms, the dead weight forcing both men to the floor in a soft collapse as Don crouched holding his brother in a semi sitting position as he fell. Larry was dropping to his knees by his side as Don flipped open his cell to call for an ambulance.
TO BE CONTINUED. . .